From the archive
… like Ian Leslie, I dislike the “Trendy Vicar tone“ of the happiness movement, all the “stop to think about it” / “hectic pace of life” crap — and partly based on skepticism about self-reported happiness (largely dispositional, heavily socially influenced, inflected by signaling: I approve of people who respond to “how are you” with a grunt). But it also seems trivial to come up with situations that are the exact inverse of that Krugman argument: cases in which it is intuitively sensible to trade happiness for other things, like knowledge or responsibilities. For instance most works of art, and perhaps the large majority of scientific inventions — e.g., the spinning jenny — probably can’t be justified through their impact on gross human happiness, but are worthwhile in some fairly obvious sense. (One can wriggle out of this through redefining “happiness” to include every possibly valuable thing, have higher/lower forms, etc. but this is a stupid semantic game.)
Anyway, the point about “happiness” is that it is the latest buzzword for scientism in the humanities; it is what “progress” was in the era after Herbert Spencer, and (perhaps) what growth was for a while in the mid-20th. (Perhaps the era of Lagrange and Gauss, ca. 1800, was obsessed with voting systems for a similar reason.) There is an enduring tendency for the latest scientific fad — preferably something that is a little amorphous, though this seems not to be essential — to be applied to human affairs by implicitly adopting a self-serving value system according to which the one thing the new science is about is precisely the thing that’s to be maximized. Thus with psychology — evolutionary and otherwise — and happiness.